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African wild dogs lose pups in climate adaptation ‘trap’

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AIR CONDITIONING WIRE | The African wild dog may be headed for population decline because of how it adapts to climate change.

An analysis of 30 years of demographic data and field observations in Botswana shows that this endangered species, a distant relative of wolves, is experiencing higher pup mortality as rising average temperatures affect its annual denning season.

Researchers call this state a “phenological trap,” where a species changes the timing of key life events in response to environmental changes. African wild dogs’ calving season has changed by 22 days, caused by a shortened cool season, according to new research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

New litters are traditionally born during the coolest time of the year, from May to July, to reduce exposure to spring heat. But as the birthing season shifts later as warming warms, pups experience more stress during a critical early stage of life.

The result: fewer cubs survive their first year of life.

“It’s an unfortunate ‘frying pan into the fire,'” said Brianna Abrahams, the study’s lead author, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Washington and a research fellow at the Center for Sentinel Ecosystems.

The study, supported by the nonprofit Botswana Predator Conservation, reflects scientists’ growing understanding of how apex species such as wild dogs, some of sub-Saharan Africa’s hardiest carnivores, are still at risk of population declines as the climate warms.

“The results suggest that climate-induced shifts may be more widespread among top predators than previously thought, and they demonstrate how climate change can have top-down effects on ecosystems, altering the ecology of the uppermost trophic levels,” they write. researchers.

Instead of adapting, species like wild dogs are “maladapting,” Abrahams said, meaning their basic instincts to survive climate change are having the exact opposite effect.

“We don’t know exactly how high temperatures are related to reduced survival of pups,” Abrahams said in an interview. Researchers know that pups stay with their mothers later in the nesting season, changing pack dynamics. “Maybe it has to do with their ability to forage from the rest of the flock,” she said.

Starvation, followed by predation by lions, is the leading cause of death for young African wild dogs.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that there are about 1,400 adult African wild dogs left in the wild, and that number is declining. According to experts, the herd can number from 10 to 40 animals.

Recognized by their mottled black, brown and white fur and prominent ears, the animals are often mistaken for hyenas and killed by farmers. However, the greatest threat to them is habitat fragmentation and human encroachment, according to the African Wildlife Fund. Their traditional range extends from southern East Africa to southern Africa.

Reprinted from E&E News Courtesy of POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.

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